Stores are bursting with colourful and exciting options for purchase. So how could you go wrong? In fact, it is easy to purchase the wrong toy or one not particularly helpful or suited for your child. Whilst toys should be fun, they should also have something developmental to offer. So, with birthdays and the festive season in mind, what should you consider when thinking about toys?

As with most things, there is a balance to be found between active and passive toys and games, quiet alone time toys, and family and friends play. Your collection of toys, books, puzzles, and other play equipment needs to reflect these different kinds of play, and the ages and stages of your children. Each type of play teaches children different but important skills.

For 0—2 years: All the action is at floor level, so look for toys that roll, stack, make noise, and provide action and movement. Toys that move or hang just out of reach encourage your baby to reach, crawl and learn hand eye co-ordination.

Toys that make noise help your child learn to distinguish the directions that noises and sounds come from and what different items around them sound like. Sorting toys and simple repetitive action toys are engaging for infants and toddlers as they learn how to make their hands and bodies work in a coordinated fashion.

For 3-5 years: At this stage, children are developing rapidly in many areas so toys need to reflect this and provide challenges. Toys can still find their way into mouths or ears, and up noses, so be careful with your choices, particularly if there are younger siblings about.

Three to fives imitate real life, so offer toys that allow children to practice living and navigating their way in the world. Toys such as mini kitchens, aprons, pans, play dough, rolling pins, dolls, dress ups, books about issues and feelings, garden tools, puppets, dough

For school-age: These children need to play with peers so toys and games that help them develop those skills are important. They also need to make rules and organise their play and find time to play alone so they can take their time, go over skills again and practice until they feel confident in joining others in play. Select toys that promote these aspects of play and include safe outdoor games too.

Also try to include games that family and friends can enjoy together so children learn, with your guidance, about turn-taking, winning and losing with good grace, congratulating winners, and enjoying participation in the experience.

What are the key things to remember when choosing toys for your child?

  • Great toys do not have to cost great sums of money—simple is often preferred by young children.
  • Gather, over time, a collection of safe, durable, age-appropriate toys to foster a wide range of developing skills and provide fun play and learning
  • Include items for more than a single child to encourage social play, collaboration and just plain “getting along” and having fun with others of a similar age
  • Games for a single child to play are also valuable. They provide opportunities to play quietly, learn how to amuse themselves, be independent and manage their own time well
  • Choose age appropriate toys—safe play means no small parts or batteries to lose or choke on. Toys with small, round, shiny batteries are potentially lethal for young children. Strings or long chords are also dangerous as children become caught and tangled so easily when engrossed in play
  • Avoid battery operated toys and electronic devices —they leave very little for children to imagine, be creative or think about
  • Seek out action/reaction toys for infants and young toddlers—they love to see things roll, shake, move, make noise, rattle, disappear and reappear
  • Over time, gather a collection of indoor and outdoor games for family and friends to enjoy together. These provide opportunities for children to practice taking turns, winning and losing gracefully and, being part of a team with other children, family and friends.
  • In keeping with the “toy” theme of this article, take a look at the top 5 toys of all time below. You might be surprised at the list. Keep this list in mind as you consider your toy purchases and remember what we often say— simple is often best in toys, and, battery operated toys need not apply.

The top 5 toys of all time

(According to “Geek Dad” from

  1. Dirt—the humble but great leveller
  2. Cardboard Tube— the perfect telescope, sword etc.
  3. String—fabulously flexible
  4. Cardboard Box— always amazing
  5. Stick—a truly classic and versatile toy that can be, or connect, with anything else on the list

In summary, the more simple the toy, the more children need to use imagination and their own ideas to play successfully with it.

If you provide toys and equipment with all the bells and whistles for your children, you prevent opportunities for children to learn and grow through imaginative play. Try not to be tempted to buy the latest fad toys and devices as they do not assist your child to learn in any significant ways, although their marketing campaigns will try to tell you otherwise.


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